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For an unrivalled elephant experience, and a growing number of additional natural attractions, Addo Elephant National Park plans to take on Kruger National Park as South Africa's ultimate tourist destination.

Imagine relinquishing your accumulated stress in the remote and dense bushveld of the Sundays River, deep within the Eastern Cape's Addo Elephant National Park. Imagine sundowners on your bungalow verandah, sharing the last bright orange-red glow of a glorious day with family and friends… and a procession of stately passing pachyderms, ears swishing and tails twitching.

Imagine relinquishing your accumulated stress in the remote and dense bushveld of the Sundays River, deep within the Eastern Cape's Addo Elephant National Park. Imagine sundowners on your bungalow verandah, sharing the last bright orange-red glow of a glorious day with family and friends… and a procession of stately passing pachyderms, ears swishing and tails twitching.

As the shadows lengthen and darkness descends a new order emerges in the bush. The call of the black-backed jackal seems ominously louder, the moon appears brighter, the world appears more alive than your city memory recalls… and the legend of Hapoor (Nicked Ear) the legendary irritable elephant that retained a deep hatred for humans after his ear was grazed by a bullet grows more fanciful with each telling..

It is said that Hapoor was driven from the heard and became a loner, eventually earning the honour of being the only elephant to escape the park's Armstrong fence – but due to his aggressive nature he was shot before he could enjoy his newfound freedom.

Another legendary character is Domkrag (the Afrikaans word for jack), a giant mountain tortoise that had the unusual habit of walking in behind cars and lifting them like a car jack with its enormous strength. Domkrag's huge shell is still on display in the reception area…the story of his demise is that he fell into an antbear hole and was unable to extricate himself.

The original section of the Addo Elephant National Park was proclaimed in 1931 to protect the last remaining eleven elephants in the area. Conflict between farmers and the elephant had reached a head in the early 1900s when the large herds were all but decimated by the time public opinion began to change.

Since the area was not adequately enclosed, conflicts between elephants and farmers continued even after the proclamation of the 2 000 hectare park. In 1954, Graham Armstrong, (the park manager at the time) developed an elephant-proof fence and fenced in an area of 2270 hectares protecting 22 elephants. This Armstrong fence is still used around the park today, and has only ever been bested by Hapoor.

Safe from relentless persecution in the past, the grey leviathans of the bush now roam in peace. Although the Addo Elephant National Park was originally proclaimed to protect a single species – elephant - priorities have now changed to conserve the rich biological diversity found in the area.

Today, when you wake the francolin's call heralding the dawn, you will see a finely tuned 164 000 hectare ecosystem that is sanctuary to 450 elephants, 400 Cape buffalo, 48 black rhino, a variety of antelope species, as well as the unique flightless dung beetle, found almost exclusively in Addo.

Less than 50 kilometres from Port Elizabeth, the original Addo National Elephant Park has subsequently been expanded to include the Woody Cape Nature Reserve that extends from the Sundays River mouth towards Alexandria and includes a marine reserve, that incorporates St. Croix Island and Bird Island in Algoa Bay, an important breeding habitat for a large variety of other marine life. Bird Island is home to the world's largest breeding colony of gannets and the second largest breeding colony of African penguins. This forms part of the plan to expand the Addo National Elephant Park into a 360 000 hectare mega park – the Greater Addo Elephant National Park.

Bird Island is home to the world's largest breeding colony of gannets and the second largest breeding colony of African penguins. This forms part of the plan to expand the Addo National Elephant Park into a 360 000 hectare mega park – the Greater Addo Elephant National Park.

With the parks current expansion Addo contains five of South Africa's seven major vegetation zones (known as biomes).  It has forest in the Woody Cape area, subtropical thicket in the original Addo area (as well as the Kabouga, Colchester and Nyathi sections), grassland and fynbos in the Zuurberg section, and nama-karoo in the Darlington section.

With the reintroduction of lion and spotted hyena to the park in 2003 Addo is also probably one of the only parks in the world to offer the so-called "Big 7" (elephant, black rhinoceros, lion, leopard, buffalo, southern right whales and great white sharks) in their natural habitats.

You can also hope to see red hatrtebeest, eland , kudu, bushbuck, Burchell's zebra and warthogs in abundance. But be warned – it is not the mighty elephant, nor the motor vehicle that rules the roads of Addo - it is the rare flightless dung beetle. Signs warn visitors that this tiny natural recycling machine has right of way.

In the outlying areas you can expect to see different mammals – these include the Cape mountain zebra, mountain reedbuck baboons, duiker and red rock rabbit. The coastal forest is home to buchbuck, bush pig, brown hyena and the rare tree dassie.

Hippos are found in the Sundays River and gemsbok, black wildebeest, and springbok are found in the arid nama-karoo and Darlington Dam. Plans include the reintroduction of cheetah and wild dog into this area.

"Must do" activities at Addo include guided game drives in open vehicles, guided walks and guided horse trails for various levels of ability. There are also 'hop-on' guides who can be hired to travel with you in your vehicle to guide you through the game area.

There is a large variety of accommodation options to choose from – from guest houses and forest cabins to caravan and camping sites – both in and outside the reserve. The rest camp has a swimming pool, a well-stocked shop selling gifts and supplies, and an a la carte restaurant. Petrol and diesel are available at the main camp and the Red Bishop Bird Hide and new underground wildlife viewing hide are both worth a visit.

For the intrepid adventurer, elephant-back safaris are operated from a farm abutting the northern boundary in the Zuurberg area (042 235 1400 / www.addoelephantbacksafaris.co.za / This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) but expect to pay handsomely for the experience.

GETTING THERE

The most straightforward way to get to Addo is via the new southern gate. Turn off the N2 at Colchester. The gate is about 5km from the Matyholweni Camp – about 43 kilometers north of Port Elizabeth. To get to Addo's Main Camp you can take a slow drive (expect this to take about an hour) or take the 72km direct route to the main camp along the N2 towards Grahamstown and turn off at Motherwell to follow the sign posts.

There is no public transport to the park, but the park is completely accessible to normal motor vehicles. 4x4 vehicles are only required for the Bedrogfontein 4x4 trail.

There is a new official 48-page guide book on sale at the park's shop (R35,00) and is highly recommended.

Port Elizabeth to Addo Main Camp 72 km
Main Camp to Paterson 22 km
Main Camp to Kabouga 45 km
Main Camp to Narina 27 km
Main Camp to Woody Cape office 105 km
Main Camp to Matyholweni 39 km
Main Camp to Zuurberg office 17 km

CONTACT

  • For bookings contact SAN Parks central reservations on 012 428 9111 or book via the website below.
  • Office hours at Addo are from 7am to 7pm. Tel. 042 233 8600. Fax. 042 233 8643.
  • For emergencies, contact the Hospitality Manager after hours on 042 233 8635.
  • E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Web:  www.sanparks.org/parks/addo/

 For more information and inspiration have a look at this Quick Guide to South Africa's National Parks.

This article was fist published in Sawubona.